#RILA is an annual expedition of students with the slogan “Feel the Rila Monastery” which includes several disciplines – Medieval Bulgarian Literature, Medieval Bulgarian Language, Anthropology, Architecture etc. The main purposes of this research are develop and expand knowledge, to analyze the students, who visit the monastery for the first time and to make an innovative international presentation for the cultural monument through thematic assignments with creative thinking, which will be uploaded here and translated in a number of languages. Sponsor of this project is the National Assembly of the Students’ Councils of Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies nominated #RILA for annual award at the BAIT Awards in 2014. In 2015, it represents Bulgaria at European contests for projects connected to cultural heritage and student works. The expedition is on the list with initiatives that the organizers won 2nd Place on the National Award of Enlightenment 2016, under the patronage of the Minister of Education and Science of Bulgaria.
Еverybody, who has visited the Rila Monastery, can confirm that the feeling is incomparable. And those who are familiar with the history of the holy place, are experienced even a little more than others going back in history through the surrounding environment. The place is undoubtedly inspiring, unique, a place that makes you think.
Besides the monastery in the yard is located and the museum, which is no less impressive. The exhibits stored in it have not ceased to be interesting for tourists from around the world. Created in 1961, the museum is an equally desirable destination as the monastery and continues to surprise visitors.
This museum reveals the 10-century-old history of the monastery with the impressive number exhibits – over 600 and through original written documents and artistic works. Together with the original exhibits for a complete perception of the exposure to certain places are placed and auxiliary maps, charts, drawings, prints and introductory texts.
Rich possessions of the Rila Monastery shape fourteen thematic expositions. They reflect not only important moments in the history of the monastery but fully formed and our ideas about different aspects of Bulgarian culture. In the museum is the charter of king Shishman, the contract with the Russian monastery “St. Panteleimon” of Mount Athos, also silver and wooden repositories for relics, potions and church vestments, liturgical fabrics, antique jewelry, and coins.
The museum is divided into several parts, each of them reveals a certain period of development of the monastery. The first exposition covers the period from the establishment of the monastery in 10th century and its history until the end of 14th century. The most impressive exhibit from this exposition for me is the tombstone of Hrelyo Dragovol and the memorial inscription that revealing his tragic dead. The exhibition gives a good idea about the brilliant epoch of the Bulgarian Middle Ages.
The development of Rila Monastery between 15th and 18th century is presented in several thematic sections, including authentic documents, literature, and artistic objects. Four composite section unifying theme of the growing role of the monastery as a cultural and spiritual center during the period of Ottoman rule (15-19th century.), like a national leader and center, which show the ethnical worldview and spirit.
The second large hall is “The monastery in the 19th century”. The deployment of unprecedented construction and shaping of the monastery with the participation and assistance of the entire Bulgarian people is represented on boards. They show the architecture of the monastery wings and their construction stages with the craftsmen, construction of the new church. Also ensembles of murals through the gallery of portraits in the main church and the chapels, the woodcarving of the main iconostasis, carved ceilings and architectural elements on monastery verandas.
Another interesting part of the museum is the Ethnographic museum. It is presented by more than 370 exhibits – numerous donations from pilgrims and craftsmen who have donated their works to the monastery. It presents the life and customs of the Bulgarian National Revival. The principle of organizing the collection is species and thematic. In separate sections are presented fabrics, jewelry, household utensils, toreutics, who outlines the artistic boundaries of most developed crafts in the Bulgarian Revival – weaving, carving, coppersmithery, goldsmiths, blacksmiths.
There is no part of the museum that is uninteresting. The most impressive for me is the one that is associated with the presentation of the life and work of Neofit Rilski. This great bookman and enlightened person undoubtedly left an indelible trace in Bulgarian self-awareness and the ability to touch his belongings and works should not be missed. In showcases are exposed letters addressed to and from it; photocopies of pages from his journal, led by 1836 to 1874 .; his autobiography from 1864 .; textbook grammar, printed in Kragujevac in 1835 .; incredible handmade by him globe in 1836 .; many valuable books from his personal library, and a copy of “Slav-Bulgarian History”.
The atmosphere in Rila Monastery causes unique emotions and anyone who has the ability to touch this situation should do it. Even the air is different and after this experience, we too. We are thoughtful, purified and inspired to go back to ours cities bearing piece from the holy place.
The monastery is one of the most famous spiritual and cultural places in Bulgaria. It binds the name of Saint Ivan Rilski and dates back to the 10th century. People go there to visit another landmark to purify, to pray and many others. But the truth is that in the building of the monastery and around it there are things that few people notice and do not get enough attention. One of these things are the colors.
The colors are many. There are bright and pale, warm and cold. But all of them create a sense of harmony and purity, which almost do not occur in our busy lives. Starting from the green of the trees, then the gray color of the cave, where the Saint lived, we reach the white and red colors of the building. We should not miss the paths and the colors in the church.
The monastery is in the mountains, where are many trees. During the spring they are in its peak flowering. The majestic white or brown trunks, rising high above the ground, enfold of their crowns. Bright green crowns, the trembling breath of the wind who caress the leaves, brown bark that hides its supporting organs and spring breezes make you feel at least momentarily calm. Along with that, they carry a sense of harmony.
You cannot visit the Rila Monastery and not to go to the cave where Saint Ivan of Rila lived. Trying to feel his presence and what he experienced while he was alive. The cave is gray and the thought of that color can cause a fear, distress. Yes, it was dark inside, because cannot be illuminated. This does not mean that it is bleak. Gray is a neutral color and the background of the trees it creates a sense of simplicity, cleanliness and comfort in the individual. Not make you afraid, just to relax.
I noticed and something else – the brown paths. The trails in the mountain that lead to various places inhabited by the Saint create the feeling of magic. This is thanks to the many tree roots that curl on the ground and stones, and together make “stairs”.
The building of the monastery is white with red ornaments. A combination that conveys a sense of antiquity, also elegance of simplicity and purity. The Church is painted inside and out with several different colors. These colors show us biblical scenes and scenes from the Saint’s life, making us feel the past when everything has happened.
The Rila is a wonderful place for admirers of vivid colors and real feelings. The monastery includes with its colors and contributes to the beauty of the mountain. The aura of the sacred place is all around and touches everyone who allows being touched. After this contact, you are a bit changed – purified, appeased even rested. The colors are those that contribute to the wonderful experience when you visit the Rila Monastery and the area.
Rila – Royal Mountain! If you have never been there, at least you have heard a lot about it. But even if you were, eventually always you realize that there is something you need to see, there is another place that had failed to tell you all its wonderful story.
With my family usually visit the monastery on November 21 (the Blessed Virgin; Day of Orthodox Christian youth and family), we get to the grave of the Saint, stay there for a while in silence and timelessness, then go home rested. We visited enchanting lakes, climbed to top Musala, where the air is divine, but the charm of this nature is precisely in the fact that it cannot satisfy you. No matter how long you have to stay – never enough. Acts as an opiate! The more get to know this mountain, stronger love her!
I knew that my touch to the majestic Rila will be of a different kind, recording for this project. And so it proved … The weather was cool – ideal for an adventure. Impatience was written on the faces of my colleagues. The excitement felt in our voices when everyone shared their expectations … And at last, we were on the road …
And very soon we reached the sacred place! Standing at the gates, you feel so small and everything in the monastery is so impressive! Modestly bow your head and go inside. You start looking, but your eyes cannot stay in one place. Everything is thought out to the smallest detail. On the way Assistant Savova gave tasks, stimulating deductive reasoning. My task was “The gold and his presence”. Looking more closely at the beginning, it seemed difficult to say where it is not present.
Lexical meanings of gold in Bulgarian folk-style are associated primarily with “divinity”, “sanctity of gold objects comes from the sanctity of gold as material”, “symbol of the sun and light as glitter glory as glitter”, “virginity and moral purity”, “charity” – words, fully meeting our idea of Rila Monastery. The most expensive, the most valuable relics of the divine home were covered with secular gold.
The halo of every Saint beamed. From the relics of Ivan Rilski shone purity and light. Touch them and your soul triumphs. The miraculous icon was in gold plating, whose purpose is to attract your attention to her with the entry. Each item associated with the Holy Sacrament, every detail embraced by the glitter of gold tried to connect us to the divine.
When you leave the temple, the tradition enjoins to turn again to the altar and to worship. This is a moment when you are infatuated! The golden altar, the massive gold chandeliers, the fiery flames of the candles that glow with such force that burns your eyes … You feel powerless to focus everything that merged into a yellow, warm light … You close your eyes, bow and go out, grateful for the short moment that you were in Heaven …
With this trip, I rediscovered Rila Monastery! This gave me the opportunity to understand things in my previous visits I had taken for granted. Old Bulgarian language spoke by professor Savova. The frescoes and inscriptions told their stories. Touching the Rila Monastery, this cultural wealth, you touch your soul, your roots, your past … The incomparable experience that enriches you not only mentally, but spiritually! I can proudly say: “I touched Rila Monastery” but from now on, whenever I go back at this powerful place, I will seek the same shattering experience!
In the expedition entitled “I Touched Rila Monastery” for the first time, I touched the monastery. The nature for me is a harmony – exalted and soothes the human soul, sharpens the senses of beauty and goodness. It teaches a person to get to know perfection, it is life, strength, inspiration. She is Bulgaria. Another like Bulgarian nature does not exist. When I crossed the threshold of the monastery, I held my breath in front of its fascination.
As Ivan Vazov wrote in his poem “In Rila Monastery” – “I’m home in the heart of Rila” this was the moment when I realized the meaning and power of these words. With this expedition I had the honor to touch a part of Bulgarian history, I had the opportunity to be in the place where St. Ivan Rilski performed many miracles, helped people and cured serious diseases, I had the opportunity to worship on his relics and felt so close to the great Bulgarian Saint.
We learned the importance of the iconostasis. While listening to the purpose and meaning of everything in the church of the monastery, I noticed how people surrounded us and listened raptly. Then I thought how many people enter and leave the church, light a candle and do not realize that everything in a church has its importance. It was a great honor and pleasure for me that I had the opportunity to attend this expedition with these people. We wrote our cherished desires to the Saint. There was a twinkle in the eye of each of us throughout the day.
We walked the path in the woods to the cave of St. Ivan Rilski and saw the wonderful church in the rock – a miracle. We prayed on the rock, where he prayed. We worshiped at the grave of the Saint. All of us touched the stones in the cave and just realize that we are to the place where the great Saint slept. We crawled through the chimney of the cave at the bottom, each secretly afraid to be a sinner and to be stuck there. We passed cleansed of ours sins. Poking, pushing our bags with joint efforts we left on the surface of the rock … and what to see? Everyone had stopped, enjoying the amazing view in front of us – the majestic mountain. We went to the church to the holy spring. In the cracks between the stones could be seen everywhere small pieces of paper with wishes. Our whole group wrote something. It is amazing how these stones keep hidden cherished requests, desires, and dreams. How much sincere prayers are heard…
I do not know whether all of us before this expedition were aware with that what owns Bulgaria, but I think at the end of the day, tired of this day in everyone’s head there were thoughts with what we had met. The memory of this trip will remain for long in my mind.
The trip to the Rila Monastery was an amazing experience. Although many times I have been there, this time, was different – I saw the monastery with new eyes. I learned new things, touched to the places, where the Saint lived, I touched to him.
I have never been to his grave. When we went there, I felt in one with the surrounding nature, free of worries and concerns. There, where are the grave and the places, where Ivan Rilski lived, was so beautiful. Made an impression on me the church is built into the rock, where he lived. I overcame my fear of tight spaces while passing through the hole. In the beginning, I was panicked, hesitated at the beginning, I thought I could not and I have to back, but I continued. Perhaps the strength and spirit of Ivan Rilski helped me.
During the short break we had, I ate delicious bread down to the monastery. The experience in the monastery, when we had been there was also unique. I have been here many times, but now I saw it differently and learned many new things – about the history of the monastery and about Ivan Rilski. For the first time, I noticed many new things about the church – for its structure, layout, and images, inside and outside images with scenes from the life of the Saint. I visited and the museum in the monastery. I saw things that previously did not impress me. Before I was just another tourist who comes to look, after that did not remember most of the things that he saw. Until now I had never touched the relics of the Saint. It was my first time and I am filled with faith and I felt his strength.
I really saw the monastery with new eyes. It was an experience that would be difficult to replace. I am very glad I was here because it is an experience you will not forget and will remain a part of me forever.
The monastery is one of the most popular attractions in Bulgaria. I guess every Bulgarian knows the story of the creation of Rila Monastery by the founder of the Bulgarian retreat – St. Ivan Rilski. This is a monument listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. I can recite hundreds of data about the history of the monastery, its architecture, how many times has been destroyed by raiding or fires, how many times has been rebuilt, etc., but I think it would be completely pointless, as everyone nowadays can check and learned with great details all about it with a click of the mouse.
I want to draw a little attention to the library because, unfortunately, we were unable to visit, but I noticed that the literary heritage of the monastery somehow remains in the background, hidden from the beauty – natural, architectural, artistic – the power of this place. After visiting the monastery, Chief Assist Petko Petkov revealed the fraction of the wealth of the library with the help of the modern technology.
It is the only organic preserved medieval library in Bulgaria. It keeps about 250 manuscripts from the period between 11-19th c., 9000 incunabula, notated manuscripts, Renaissance prints and others. The early literature of the monastery exist since its inception, but from that period have not been preserved any materials. In the past in the monastery have been trained the best clerics, teachers, educators. The monastery has had a training system – the inmates lived under the guidance and instruction of some older men. After the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule, the monastery became a salvation for a number of writers. Over the centuries of slavery in the monastery many writers have created here as Theophan Rilski, Vladislav the Grammarian, Dimitar Kantakuzin, Joseph Bearded, Nikifor Rilski, Joseph Batashki, Neofit Rilski, Hristaki Pavlovic and many others who continue the traditions of the native literacy. Without the literary work of a number of known and unknown figures, Bulgaria’s liberation and spiritual awakening of the Bulgarians would have been unthinkable. Again, I can recite names and hundreds of works of great importance, but that’s not my goal. The magnificence of the monastery is undoubtedly, but the word preached is that what abides over the centuries. I think it should be assessed. It hides the real important value of the Rila Monastery.
It’s hard to put into words so powerful experience. I have visited many sacred sites in various parts of the country, but Rila Monastery drew me in an unusual way. At first, I was in a highly waiting to see the places, inhabited by St. John of Rila. It is different to see something, for what you have only read in books. This Saint is a role model – he left the secular life, lived in complete solitude in the middle of the wild, he devoted himself entirely to God. The small chapel in the dark cave, the sacred water flowing all the way to the top of the rock… you feel the presence of the divine. The sounds of bubbling streams, the continuous songs of birds complement the sense of harmony.
With the first steps in Rila Monastery, I felt a wobble, strong emotion. In front of my eyes opened magnificent views – the exquisite architecture amidst beautiful nature. With the entry in the “Virgin Birth”, I felt calm because I was surrounded by extraordinary frescoes, gilded chandeliers, altars, and believers, praying people. The divine enters in you through all the senses raises unfamiliar feelings.
I noticed that the sounds in the monastery are in contrast inside and outside the temple. Outside is so loudly, lively, with many tourists from different countries and in the temple itself – quietly, every believer is humble and prays for health, expecting salvation. Another thing we heard were very useful stories from our unique teacher Assistant Savova for the construction, the frescoes, and everything, concerning the monastery. We had the opportunity to see the holy relics of St. John of Rila and to pray, connecting with the Saint. But not only through relics, all icons and murals connect us with servants of God and with God Himself. Most of us took for home something tangible from the monastery as a bracelet with a cross, icon, but certainly, each of us took with him some of the energy, the power of this sacred place.
I am happy that I became part of this project. My expectations were surpassed. The Rila Monastery and Rila mountains that I visit for the first time but not for the last time left a deep imprint in my mind and soul. I finish with the way I started – cannot describe the indescribable feeling, it must be experienced. I touched the Rila Monastery!